§ 2.54 p.m.
§ Moved, That the Bill he now read 3a.—(Baroness Phillips.)
§ Lord MANCROFT
My Lords, I do not wish in any way to delay the progress of this Bill on to the statute book; nor do I wish to occupy your Lordships' time for more than a minute when we have a full and important Order Paper in our hands. However, there is one point of procedure which I should like to raise and which I think arises from the Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, although I am sure I shall be told that it does not.
The point is that this Bill will pass almost immediately on to the statute book. We have at the moment before this House at least half a dozen major Bills of great importance, upon which we are discussing details five days a week, often late into the night. They are important Bills and naturally the Opposition are tabling amendments; indeed, on this side of the House determined leaders such as the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, and the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, are raising formidable forays. My point is that I do not think—and I submit this to your Lordships with respect—that we are giving enough time to ourselves to consider the final details of major Bills when they have been right through all their stages. Of course, I realise that another place is concerned because some of these Bills originated there, but some originated here.
By the Procedure Committee's regulations we normally have no less than three days to consider the final stages of a Bill which may have had 200 or 300 amendments debated in your Lordships' House far into the night, when perhaps we are not quite as careful or quite as alert as we should be. To give weight to this point, I would ask your Lordships to remember that within the last month the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords sitting in its judicial capacity have on more than one occasion said that they have regretted the judgment 1368 that they have had to give because, although it is the law, they suspect that it is not what we in Parliament thought the law should be.
Frequently we pick up these points—that is what the Committee and Report stages are for. I very vividly remember some 20 years ago being guilty myself, standing at that Despatch Box trying to introduce the Shops Bill into your Lordships' House. I spent a long time trying to persuade your Lordships that it took 19 lines of the draftsman's deathless prose to establish the fact that only a Moslem or a practising Jew could operate as a barber in Scotland on a Sunday. But your Lordships would have none of it, and saw the point in time.
There are many points which we do not see in time, and I think that we should be given longer time in the final stages when we have these complicated and important Bills to consider. I do not, of course, ask for an answer now from my noble friend, to whom I have given notice of this question, save to ask him to assure me that he will refer the matter to the Procedure Committee, which I know has already considered it, but not when we have such a crowded timetable as we have today. The Government will, of course, say that they do not have enough time; we can discuss something else while the matter is being considered and while the draftsman has a chance to look right through the Bill to see that we have not made some appalling mistake quite accidentally. It is our fault; it is not the fault of the draftsman. Therefore I shall be grateful if my noble friend will assure me that he will refer this matter back to the Procedure Committee at an appropriate moment, so that the Ministers, Government Departments and the draftsmen can have more time to look through Bills to make certain that we have not made some mistake just by sitting too late, too long, and too often.
§ Lord DENHAM
My Lords, my noble friend is quite right in that what he has said is probably not strictly relevant to the Bill of the noble Baroness, but he has said it with such charm and it is of such interest to your Lordships that I am sure we can overlook that. Indeed, part of what he said I think I remember reading in some of his own deathless prose.
1369 I have taken note of what my noble friend has said. As he knows, the House has agreed that certain minimum recommended intervals should be observed between the stages of public Bills. These intervals were carefully considered by the Select Committee on Practice and Procedure, and afterwards by the Procedure Committee. They were subsequently agreed by the House on 10th November 1977, and I think that all Governments since have tried to observe those intervals. If my noble friend wishes to propose any changes to the agreed recommended intervals—and I think that it is up to my noble friend himself to do so and not up to the Government of the day—he should, first, talk to the noble Lord the Lord Chairman of Committees as chairman of the Procedure Committee, and subsequently, if he wishes, raise it at that Committee.
Baroness LLEWELYN-DAVI ES of HASTOE
My Lords, with the permission of the House, may I say that it would be difficult to let this opportunity pass without pointing out that it is up to the Government of the day to propose a reasonable programme of legislation, and also to register that most parts of the House consider that this Government have not done that, and that your Lordships' House has found infinite difficulty in examining the very complex and controversial legislation which is always put before us in a hurry.
§ Baroness PHILLIPS
My Lords, I beg the Lord Chancellor's pardon. I was trying to speed up legislation.
§ On Question, Bill read 3a with the amendments.
§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Baroness PHILLIPS
My Lords, in moving that this Bill do now pass, may I say how sorry I am that the noble Lord selected my poor little Bill for a long speech. If he really wanted to get on perhaps we could have avoided that. 1370 In fairness to Private Member's Bills, they come on at the end of business, with the exception of this particular occasion, and therefore would not, I think, take up unnecessarily the time of the House. I should like to express my thanks to all noble Lords who have assisted me in this matter. I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Baroness Phillips.)
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, may I congratulate the noble Baroness on reaching this stage with her Bill. Arising from my noble friend's speech, it is a Bill on which a good deal of care has been taken because it has been amended in Committee in your Lordships' House and it therefore does not pass to the statute book—where I hope very soon it will be—but it goes back first to another place.
I think it is a good Bill. Any Bill about drink must be quite good. Any Bill which, as in Clause 1 here, to some extent moderates the rules about drink I think must be even better. One is reminded of the legendary Harry Vardon who, on being asked by an eager lady in what lay the secret of his success on the golf course, is supposed to have replied, "Moderation in all things. But I can tell you, madam, that I have never lost to a teetotaller". Congratulations to the noble Baroness for this small but important Bill. I support the Motion that it now pass.
§ Lord BOSTON of FAVERSHAM
My Lords, we on these Benches would not like to let this occasion pass withtou congratulating my noble friend on having "brewed up" a really splendid Bill, and for having put it forward in such a "spirited" way.
§ On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.